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Equal opportunity is attorney's passion

He is the founder and director of university's civil rights center

When young Pace J. McConkie entered law school, he was never torn between specializing in, say, corporate, criminal or family law. He'd already decided how he'd ply his future trade.

"I went to law school knowing I wanted to (practice) civil rights law," he said.

While civil rights attorneys can be counted among the most storied and influential lawyers in U.S. history — think Thurgood Marshall's victory in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education anti-segregation case — it's not an area that has traditionally drawn LDS legal eagles.

Still, the civil rights arena seemed a natural fit for Brother McConkie. He grew up in a home that believed in the equality of all God's children. His scripture study, he said, only strengthened that conviction. As a young missionary, he served in New Zealand and came to appreciate that country's cultural melting pot of races and traditions.

The gospel, he said, "has been my greatest motivation for what I do professionally."

Today, Brother McConkie wears two distinct hats quite comfortably. A past recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Attorney of the Year Award, the Utah native is the founder and director of the Center for Civil Rights in Education at Morgan State University, a traditionally black school in Maryland.

When the work day ends, Brother McConkie keeps busy in his Church calling as president of the Annapolis Maryland Stake. He's also husband to Marilyn Mahas McConkie and father of four.

The Civil Rights Movement has changed countless lives over the past several decades. Opportunities for educational, professional and social advancement have been opened to many, regardless of race or ethnicity. President McConkie points to a pivotal moment in the movement in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy gathered lawyers from across the country to help form a committee that would help ensure fair and equitable legal representation to victims of racial discrimination. Counted among that gathering was an LDS attorney from Utah named James E. Faust.

Despite such inroads, President McConkie said the struggle for civil rights has not been settled. Access to educational programs is still limited in some areas of the country. Sans such opportunities, he added, many minority students are destined for lives of poverty and struggle.

Morgan State's Center for Civil Rights in Education brings together research, teaching, training and advocacy on civil rights issues in education at all levels, from preschool to college. As director, President McConkie is on the front lines in the center's efforts to ensure equal educational opportunities for all, both in Maryland and throughout the country.

President McConkie said his religious convictions fuel his work.

"When you understand the brotherhood and sisterhood of the gospel, it's easier to embrace the diversity of our communities and understand the strength of diversity," he said.

While few people have the opportunity to defend civil rights in a courtroom, President McConkie said members everywhere can help fight racial discrimination. "In the end, it will be the gospel of Jesus Christ that allows us to overcome (discrimination)."

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